Let Sleeping Crocodiles Lie. Cautionary Tales from a Freelance Life

Crocodile by Sally Wiener GrottaDaniel and I enjoyed strolling. Wherever we were, whether near home or on some other continent, we’d go for rambling walks. Often with no destination in mind, turning where our feet and curiosity pulled us, stopping when something demanded our full attention, or to simply sit and absorb. It was our way of connecting. With our surroundings, whether it were nature or a cityscape. With the rhythm of life and culture. With each other. Every walk was an adventure, an exploration, a learning experience. And fun.

More often than not, I’d have a camera in hand. When we were away from home, Daniel usually carried my camera bag, which would be packed with lenses, various camera bodies, model releases and the other paraphernalia that fill such bags, including dozens of rolls of film. (Yes, this was in the pre-digital era.)

On this particular walk, the sun slanted on the arid sub-Sahara of Kenya’s Samburu National Park. Golden light and long shadows mottled the parched landscape, creating unexpected shapes where I had seen only a flat and near featureless expanse in the midday overhead sun. Dotting the far flung vista were occasional groves of trees, indicating probable water sources.

Our only companion was our guide. Unlike the lanky statuesque men of the local Samburu tribe who moved through their domain with the graceful lope of a gazelle, our guide was compact, with a center of gravity that seemed to keep him in constant contact with the earth under his feet. The air was alive with almost subliminal sounds that I couldn’t really identify — probably bird calls, perhaps insects and far off animal calls. The sky above was as wide as any I’ve ever seen, stretching from horizon to far horizon, devoid of any sign of mankind’s imprint on nature. No wires, no buildings, no vehicles or sounds of traffic. Not even the contrail of a high altitude plane.

As we rounded the edge of a comparatively large grove of trees, we saw a small river which had carved a crevasse in the dry soil so that the embankment seemed to tower over the waterway like a tiny cliff. At the bottom of the near embankment slept an enormous crocodile. He was motionless, a stunning sculptural figure composed of dense shadows and pools of light. Read More

“The Winter Boy” — Inspirations, Writing Processes & the Life of a Writer

When Sally’s Locus Award-nominated novel The Winter Boy was honored by being selected for SWFA‘s first ever fantasy StoryBundle, fellow author Erika Satifka interviewed Sally to discuss writing processes, inspirations, and some of the inside stories behind the creation of The Winter Boy

 

This interview is from last November, and the StoryBundle is no longer available. However, The Winter Boy is available from most bookstores in paperback, hardbound and all e-book formats, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and an independent bookstore near you.

Sala Wyman’s Review of “Jo Joe”

TSally Wiener Grotta, author of  the novel "Jo Joe"hank you Sala Wyman for another very nice review of my novel Jo Joe and a fun interview session….

“Set in a fictional village in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, Sally Wiener Grotta takes on the inner shards of racism with her novel Jo Joe, a Black Bear, Pennsylvania Story.

“There are always a couple of ways to deal with the topic of racism and its effects on the victims. One is to just document the facts about oppressors and victims. Another is to take a higher road: the healing of victims, families, and communities. Ms. Grotta beautifully and skillfully takes the high road.Read More

They Called Us “Team Grotta”

Daniel Grotta & Sally Wiener Grotta

They called us Team Grotta.

I’m not sure which editor first gave Daniel and me that nickname. When we were long-time Contributing Editors at PC Magazine, I remember being pleasantly surprised when various people started referring to us as Team Grotta. It came so naturally to their lips that we felt that they had been using the term for a while. Perhaps it had developed organically, put forward in staff meetings and in office discussions. “Why don’t we put Team Grotta on that project?” or “Ask Team Grotta, they’ll figure it out.”

Not that it was exclusively a PC Magazine thing. Other editors and clients took it up, as did conference and workshop organizers and, eventually, readers.

When I look back, I sometimes feel that Daniel and I were the last to hear the sobriquet. But we were delighted when we realized what a nice compliment it was to who we were professionally and personally, how well we worked together and how others had learned to depend on us.

Team Grotta. I’ll never know if it spread out virally from one person’s dubbing of the two of us as a single well-tuned entity. Or was it an outgrowth of the nature of our relationship which was evident to anyone who saw us together? Heck, a number of years ago, a young couple with whom we used to square dance told us that their toddler son thought that “DanielSally” was one name. Read More

Carving a Sacred Place

Nate Favors from The American Hands Project by Sally Wiener GrottaToday, I will write.

Because it is time.

I’m not sure when I last wrote. At least a year. No, it was more like a year and a half, except maybe for a couple of essays and one or two very short poems. I’m not talking about the reviews and features that currently represent the bulk of my livelihood, but my core writing. The novels, stories, poems and essays that reach through my throat into my gut and haul out my voice through my heart.

I write because pouring myself out onto the keyboard is how I have always tried to make sense of a senseless world. I don’t understand the pain we cause each other, the hate, the distortion of love. War and tribalism. Walls between individuals, between tribes and nations, that are built up brick by brick over years of preconceptions and propaganda. So I create stories to try to help me find the right questions to ask that might yet explain the inexplicable. Perhaps, I can also use it to try to navigate my way through the morass of this new world that now envelops me.

I write because through words, through Story, I have long discovered myself. So I shall write with the hope of rediscovery, not of the woman I am or have been, but this new woman I am now forced to become. Without my compass, without the living breathing other soul who lived within me, by my side, facing each morning as a new adventure to be shared.

Where do I start? At the end? That’s one simple sentence. Three words. Daniel is dead. In my novel The Winter Boy, I wrote, “How people die shapes our world.” Read More

Porous Memory

The shape and taste on my lips, a poem by Sally Wiener GrottaI sit at a blank screen, knowing it’s time to write. That’s what Daniel would tell me to do with the jumble of emotion, pain, emptiness that has consumed me.

Some years ago, I saw a man attack another with a broken bottle. We were in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, a normally high decibel neighborhood, with sidewalk traffic as dense as the streets. Families with scampering children and couples arguing or holding hands and business folk, tourists, conventioneers, and yes, the always present hungry homeless folded in on themselves. Crowds of people walking too fast, or strolling and reading window menus, or juggling large grocery packages festooned with pictographic Chinese words. And somewhere behind the neon signs and fatty aromas, a verve of hidden life, mysterious, almost alien, yet so very familiar.

However, that wasn’t the Chinatown we saw that night. The hour was so late that the tiny corner restaurant we chose was an island of unresolved energies on a nearly darkened street. (Or at least as dark as any street in Chinatown gets.) I saw no pedestrians through the large plate glass windows during our entire meal. Just the incessant rain and the puddling reflections of a sleeping city. While we waited for our check, Daniel went into the men’s room. That’s when it happened. A sudden, vicious eruption of fists and blood, of glass gouging and slashing, unintelligible screams and flung furniture. Read More

On Writing: A Complex Web of Inspirations Behind My Novel “Jo Joe”

Sally Wiener Grotta, author of the novel "Jo Joe"

For the BookGoodies.com spotlight on my novel Jo Joe, I was asked “What inspired you to write your book?” Here’s the answer I gave them:

“To some extent … [Jo Joe is]… about a boy I once knew, who worked for us part-time after school, doing odd jobs around the house — when it wasn’t football season. Bob wasn’t very bright, at least not in those things I had been taught to measure intelligence. But once I explained to him what I needed or wanted, with clear step by step instructions, he would absorb those directions within himself. And even though Bob was taciturn — apparently not trusting in his ability to form the words to explain himself — after he thought a while about what I had said, he would tell me his ideas about how to make the work easier, better. Then, he did whatever it was I needed. Quite well.

“As long as it was something physical that needed doing, something he could see in his mind as involving his hands and body, Bob was quite competent. That’s why, while he did poorly in school, barely passing, he was the high school’s star halfback.

“Bob dreamed of avoiding the rut of a life that loomed before him. Read More

What Is Your Writing Routine?

Winter Boy and Jo Joe, novels by Sally Wiener Grotta

In an interview for Ivory Owl Reviews, the first question Rhiannon asked was about my writing routine. Here’s the answer I gave her:

“Whenever possible, I try to devote my mornings to writing, though life often intervenes.

“The first draft of any novel or short story is me telling myself a story, listening carefully to the characters who become my constant companions. I am often surprised by a plot twist or sudden veering within the dialog, but I hold tight and enjoy the ride.

“In the second draft, I start to take control over the story and the characters. Often, this is when I introduce sharper, more delineated tension, and fill out the details that give depth.

“In the third draft – well, I usually lose count of the number of rewrites; it’s often in the dozens, if not scores. I work and rework the prose and plot, sculpting the personalities and histories, refining and polishing the story, while making sure every word I use is the one I really meant.

Writers are often divided into two camps:Read More

Michelle Bowles asked Sally “What inspired you to become a writer?”

Sally Wiener Grotta by Daniel GrottaIn an interview for her blog What is that Book About, Michelle Bowles asked Sally, “You have a very distinguished writing portfolio, what inspired you to become a writer?”

Here’s Sally’s answer:

“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love stories – both listening and creating. I wouldn’t go to bed unless my mother told me a story first. Often, I would fall asleep in the middle, and continue the tale in my dreams.

“When I was about 12 years old, my older sister gave me a notebook and told me that I should keep all my poems and stories in one place. I filled up that notebook rather quickly, and she bought me another. Over the years, the poetry got better, the stories more intricate and fully developed, and the notebooks piled up though I’m not sure where they are at this point.

“I began writing professionally Read More

Spreading My Petals Wide

Spreading My Petals Wide by Sally Wiener Grotta

Our field is peppered with wildflowers, poking their heads through the grass and weeds, pushing upward and outward. Seeking. As buds, they are merely promises of what might be. Only when they spread wide their petals, so that they might attract and absorb sun, rain, the caress of a breeze, the attention of bees; only when they have every pore open to receive, do they become their full selves. A glory of colors, synthesizing all that comes their way into something that is uniquely their own.

Sometimes, I feel a bit like a vampire, because I take bites of everything I see and feel, of every person I meet, and mash them up into ideas that are new, or at least in new forms, and spew them out as story. But recently, I’ve been feeling like a wildflower.

The more I open myself to stimulation, to others’ ideas and laughter, to being touched by tears or a loving caress; the more I taste through the pores of my skin or inhale divergent currents, the richer my work becomes….

Please click here to read the rest of this essay which was recently published in When Women Waken, a Journal of Poetry, Prose and Images.